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Death sentences for 2 Muslims in murder case that set off Myanmar unrest

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 4:07 AM EDT, Tue June 19, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Communal violence in Rakhine State has killed dozens and left thousands homeless
  • The attack that appears to have set off the unrest involved the rape and killing of a woman
  • Two Muslim men receive the death penalty; a third already hanged himself in jail
  • Amnesty International calls for an independent investigation into the violence

Bangkok, Thailand (CNN) -- A court in western Myanmar has sentenced two Muslim men to death for robbing, raping and killing a woman last month, a case that provoked sectarian clashes in the area that left at least fifty people dead.

The two men -- named Mamed Rawphi and Khuchi -- received the sentence Monday at the Kyaukpyu District Court in Rakhine State, the government-run newspaper New Light of Myanmar reported on its website.

A third man, Htet Htet, who had also been charged in relation to the killing, hanged himself using his clothes while in detention on June 9, the newspaper said.

News of the crime appears to have motivated several hundred people to attack a bus in Rakhine in early June, killing 10 Muslims who were on board.

Violence between Buddhists and Muslims then spread across the northern part of the state, resulting in the destruction of thousands of homes and the deaths of about 50 people, according to the government.

The national government declared a state of emergency in Rakhine, bringing in the military to help restore order.

Rakhine is home to the Rohingya, an ethnic Muslim minority who say they have been persecuted the Myanmar military during its decades of authoritarian rule.

Hundreds of Rohingyas tried last week to cross the border into neighboring Bangladesh to flee the sectarian violence.

But the Bangladeshi authorities have turned them back, saying they already have too many Rohingya refugees. Bangladeshi officials estimate 300,000 Rohingyas live in the country, with about a tenth of them in two official refugee camps.

The unrest in Rakhine appears to have subsided notably from its peak earlier this month.

The challenge for the authorities and international aid groups is supporting the thousands of people driven from their homes by the violence.

"The situation in northern Rakhine State remains very tense," the human rights group Amnesty International said in a statement Tuesday.

The organization called on the authorities to "ensure full and unfettered humanitarian access to displaced people, and conduct an independent and impartial investigation into recent communal violence."

Vijay Nambiar, a U.N. envoy who visited the affected area, said last week that repairing relations between the different communities in Rakhine would be "a long haul."

The unrest has tested the efforts of Thein Sein's administration to seek reconciliation with Myanmar's different ethnic groups and move the country toward more democratic governance.

CNN's Kocha Olarn and Jethro Mullen contributed to this report.

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